Friday, January 18, 2013

Freedom of conscience and confidential clergy salaries:

I have learned over the last 15 years or so that one topic that always gets some attention is the business of pastor pay being private or public.

Just this year, all 17 1/2 days of it, I have run across two such discussions:

 The comments on both, many in the former and a few in the latter, cover the usual objections and support for disclosing such information.

The questions might be summarized below:

1. Should clergy pay be regularly disclosed to members of his congregation or should a pastor and church take steps to conceal his salary from his congregation and restrict such knowledge to only a few key people?

2. Is the pastor harmed if his pay is made public to his congregation or is he harmed if members are denied such knowledge?

3. Are church members too unspiritual to handle the information?

4. Are ordinary members too unsophisticated to be trusted with such knowledge.

My answers are:

1. The church should be open and transparent and disclose compensation matters to the congregation. Such may be done through regular distributed financial reports or through an annual budget vote with the figures available upon request by members in other times throughout the year.

2. No, but many pastors think they are. Pity the poor pastor. If he is underpaid he doesn't want anyone to know. If he is overpaid he doggone sure doesn't want that known. If he is paid just right, he still doesn't want anyone to know.

3. Some may be but then some staff may be too unspiritual to handle managing the information as well. Judging all members to be spiritually unworthy of such knowledge is elitist, condescending, and often ill-motivated.

4. Most are unlearned on the intricacies of clergy pay but this should be an incentive to inform not to keep secret.

I have never served a church where members did not know exactly what they were paying me and I suspect that the vast majority of my colleagues are like me. That is generally the Baptist way: Trust the Lord and tell the people.

But there is another reason in favor of disclosure that is seldom mentioned. I put it like this: There is a freedom that comes from the understanding that you are hiding nothing from the people you serve and that any one of them who has a question can get an answer.The pastor can, and should, say, "I am your servant. I am grateful for your contributions and appreciate your financial support. All of the church's expenditures are on the financial report. Ask any deacon or finance committee member your questions. If they cannot or will not answer. Get back to me."

They may not like the answer but they cannot complain that the pastor and a few key leaders are witholding information from the people who make up the church or that there are two classes of members - the hoi polloi and the illuminati.

But, alas, I am in a shrinking number in my views here. Americans are odd people. A pastor might tweet his little brain out day-by-day. He might display a public media hemorrhage on Facebook for his membership to gawk at. Just don't ask him how much the church pays him, lest his sensitive schnoz get all out of joint.

I am still looking for a compelling reason as to why a minister should keep his or her pay secret from the members whose contributions fund it.

I'm all ears here brethren/sistren.


Anonymous said...

From a rational goal perspective, there is NO compelling reason for a church OR a non-religious organization to withhold salary information, and especially so in a religious organization that starts with the assumption that power is something that initially and ultimately (as informed, of course, by theological reflection and commitment [thus the church can assert that it is under the commands of Christ], which the reflection and commitment part is what some pastors seek to influence in order to undermine congregational authority) resides in the hands of the congregation, not the pastor (not that the pastor is without power, which is not the case, but said power is based less in position and much, much more in his or her person (e.g., expertise, charisma, and network).

From a political goal perspective there IS a compelling reason to reduce transparency. Withholding salary information allows the more powerful in an organization to reward in a non-rational manner, which ultimately enhances the power of the more powerful. The idea that organizational leaders, as a matter of definition of leadership, desire mature, independent thinking in others is more wishful than reality, is more rhetoric than value. Let's see, is there a way to mitigate some of that independence in others and more readily ensure the direction that I prefer to move?

For some will guard the eggs at great costs to themselves, but some after tasting them, see them as their own and will eat at will while necessarily contorting themselves so that others hopefully will still see them as guardians. Shhhh ... have a few eggs. No one will know.

Anonymous said...

Mr Plodder,
While I am not always in agreement with you, on this issue our viewpoints converge. Transparency should be paramount as far as finances go in the church with tis stipulation. In our church, only the members are allowed to attend the business meetings. Members are those who have committed to serving in the church using their spiritual giftings, as well as financially supporting the church. If a person has not not joined a church, I see no reason why they should be allowed any input in the decision making processes within the church. We started a church and so did not have to battle 100 years of "we've always done it THIS way", but this paradigm has worked well in the 10 years we have used it. Just my anecdotal evidences.... Kevin

Tim Rogers said...


What about our entity leaders in the SBC? Should their salaries and benefits be made public for all at the annual meetings to see?

Tim Rogers said...


If a person has not not joined a church, I see no reason why they should be allowed any input in the decision making processes within the church. I am in a church that dates back to 1878. I can assure you that someone who has not joined the church membership are not "allowed any input in the decision making processes" of the church. However, we do not tell those non-members they need to leave. I announce that we are about to have a regularly scheduled business meeting and they are free to leave if they would like. I also add to that statement that if they would like to stay to see the church membership in a business session they are free to stay and observe. We just had an entire family to join and they did so after sitting through one of our business meetings. Their position was they wanted to see how we acted in a business meeting because that is where you see the true colors of church members. After serving as a pastor since 1990 I must say they knew how to see if the church was healthy or not.

Anonymous said...

A non-member having no input? Not a policy that I would promote, and in an indirect manner, yeah sometimes directly, it is a policy that no church actually abides. Raise the percentage of CP giving in a large church and notice one, then, states, “… but Adrian says it is dollars, not percentages.” Case closed. Good thing, bad thing, not the point. Why not have the one with the perspective deliver it and avoid the distortions of another’s interpretation of the perspective, if said person is available? Churches use consultants. And yes, that is input, and input the pastor mostly likely has influenced the church in hearing/reading. I agree it is one thing to vote, but to deny input? Does not seem wise to me, given problem definition and alternative search may suffer less from much information and more from less information. Concerning those visitors: did you accept their money?

Once attended a church where membership was not required for participation in the operation of the church. I could teach and serve on committees, but could not chair a committee or serve on the church board. Church did fine. Good for recruitment, too. We eventually joined. Not for all congregations, likely, but it was fine for this one.

“Outsiders” are more likely to promote transparency?

William Thornton said...

Tim, I favor openness and transparency in SBC entity business. I don't know about publishing all of the CEO salary and benefits at the annual meeting, but trustees for each entity should have a process by which such information in some form is made available.

I have asked one or two entities about such and have been given answers, though in salary range form.

Tim Rogers said...


I think I posted twice by mistake. It was one to Kevin and it was some time apart. When I went to leave the page it made it look like it was not published. If you could delete the second post I would appreciate it.

The issues with the entities transparency for me is no different that a church having an annual meeting with the salaries of the staff being voted on. There doesn't seem to be any difference for me. But I also know that at some entities even the trustees cannot get the information. That, for me, is a more serious problem.